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Romance ads generate laughs at Improv Inferno
It’s such a simple concept, really: A short while before “Uncoupled” hits the Sunday evening stage at Ann Arbor’s Improv Inferno, two audience members are each asked to pick out a romance ad from a local publication. The evening’s host reads the ads to the audience at the top of the show, after which the night’s improvisers imagine what their lives would be like if the two met and went out on a first date.
But, oh, what complicated fun the audience encountered this past Sunday night when improvisers John Hartmann and Tara Nida brought together cheapskate Rex and “It’s Not About You” Tammy for that fateful first encounter!
What helps set the stage, of course, are two meaty romance ads that provide a ton of fodder for the improvisers, and in that regard, the helpful audience members were right on target.
“Woman seeking man,” read host Dave Davies from an ad in which the writer describes herself as a Halle Berry look-alike. The “sweet, sexy, soft-spoken, family oriented” woman is looking for a gentleman of any race, but he must be a Christian. The “man seeking woman,” however, wastes few words describing himself – other than he believes in Christ and wants children someday. Instead, he lists what he ISN’T looking for: no children, not overweight and not a couch potato. Plus, she must be attractive “and something special.”
Sounds like a match made in comedy heaven, right?
In the hands of Hartmann and Nida, it was!
As you’d expect, the first date was a disaster, but the story didn’t end there. (Otherwise it would have been a very short show!) So for the next 45 minutes, narrator Davies gave us a peek into the two’s future lives via a series of skits that took Rex and Tammy from young adulthood to the old folks home.
And what they delivered were plenty of laughs!
Not every scene was a gem, of course. And the story hit a minor continuity bump when the date went from two people responding to a romance ad to a woman at Tammy’s church setting up her unlucky-at-love friend on a date with her brother. But the quiet, low-key Hartmann and the cute and perky Nida – who looks nothing like Berry, by the way – kept the plot moving with plenty of quick-footed twists and turns that rarely failed to deliver the desired results.
Helping generate laughs were Pj Jacokes, fleet-footed Chris DiAngelo (who made only a few brief appearances, but made the most out of them), Brian Lark, Anne Faba and Katie Thomas.
However, be forewarned: As both the romance ads and the cast of improvisers change each week, your “Uncoupled” experience could be vastly different than mine. But somehow I suspect that won’t be the case!
“Uncoupled” runs every Sunday night at 7 p.m. at the Improv Inferno, 309 S. Main Street in Ann Arbor, through February. Tickets: $5. For information: 734-214-7080 or http://www.improvinferno.com
The Bottom Line: It’s improv, so not every word is a gem, but the laughs vastly outnumber the groans in “Uncoupled.”
Preview: ‘Guest Artist’ (Part 2)
There’s no “I” in team: It’s a group effort at the Purple Rose
For Part 1 of this preview, please see this week’s edition of Curtain Calls.
Writing a play takes one set of skills, but running a fully professional theater company requires other talents. So Jeff Daniels took the experience he gained at New York’s Circle Repertory Company under the tutelage of Lanford Wilson and Marshall W. Mason and applied it to his Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea when he opened its doors in 1991. He personalized it, however. “I’ve taken what I remember [was] the best of Circle Rep in philosophy, in execution, in programming and in staffing,” Daniels said. “The apprentice program we have at Purple Rose is a direct result of what I went through and how important I thought it was.”
One significant difference was Circle Rep’s emphasis on dramas. “They tended not to value comedy, but the norm was new plays, new works. So when I decided to start Purple Rose that was my first thing: Where are all the playwrights? Well, there weren’t any. So, well, let’s create some; develop some. That took years.”
One of those budding playwrights, of course, was Daniels, who has yet an eleventh original script waiting in the wings. “But that’s next year,” he teased.
Daniels has also developed a solid team of directors, actors and technicians who stage his shows, many of whom have been with the Purple Rose for years. One such person is Artistic Director Guy Sanville who is directing his fifth world premiere of a Daniels play. It’s a productive and fruitful relationship that, over the years, has allowed the two to work well together – especially while Daniels is wearing his playwright’s hat. “There’s a shorthand that we have,” Daniels said. “I don’t need him to come in and tell me for fifteen minutes how good something is. Let’s just get to what doesn’t work, please; we’re wasting each other’s time.”
Plus, Daniels, added, “I know how he’s going to direct. When you write a play, you want to see what it inspires in others, and I want to see what it means to him. It serves no purpose for me to come in and tell him how to do it, or for me to get on stage and act out the speeches and say, ‘Do it that way.’ I’m not interested in that.”
Instead, Daniels wants his director and cast to make the show their own. “I told Grant [Krause] that the other day. I said, ‘Your performance is really good, but our job in the next two weeks is to make it great – and perhaps by the end of the run, it will be the performance of a lifetime. But you have to lift it off the page and personalize it. See where it takes you.’ You look for what your work inspires in others.”
“We’ve grown up together,” Sanville said of his relationship with Daniels at the Purple Rose. “I think we’re both much better than we were ten years ago.”
Sanville, who is directing the world premiere of “Guest Artist,” has worked on nine of Daniels’ original shows – four as an actor. They are a team that – based on the successful of their previous efforts – understands each other and works well together. “This is his theater, and we all work in service of his vision, and I think I understand what that is. I also really love his work and his sense of humor. That’s really important.”
Plus, Sanville believes, the two speak the same theatrical language. “We have a theater company here that was based on principles he brought with him when he started this place. It’s a really good partnership – and at the end of the day, he’s the boss.”
According to the award-winning director, Daniels does two things in his best work as a writer. “He’s able to capture a lifetime of experience in less than twenty words – a single line. And he writes with an amazing rhythm. He really has grown into a skilled and solid playwright. His plays are getting national recognition – and they should.”
How the two work together as writer/director has evolved since their first team-up on “Escanaba in da Moonlight” in 1995. “He used to give me a first-draft, but now my first draft is actually his second or third. He does a lot more work before we get into rehearsals.”
Each new script has a considerable shakedown period before it ever reaches its first rehearsal, Sanville noted. “We always do a workshop – a greenhouse – anywhere from three days to a week, and we do anywhere from three to five table readings. So there’s a lot more development work that goes into it.”
Unlike Wilson who attends every minute of every rehearsal, Daniels takes a more hands-off approach to his plays. “He comes in when we have something to show him, and then he gives me his notes,” Sanville said.
What Daniels DOESN’T do, he added, is give notes to the actors. “We’re big believers in protocol here. We actually hand out a list of protocols to actors who work here – and if they get bummed out about it, that’s too bad. You need to know what the rules are, and the rules are that the acting notes come from the director.”
“That’s why this theater runs so smoothly,” actor Patrick Michael Kenney interjected. “Everybody does their job – and they have someone good at everything.”
“Guest Artist” is a brave play, Sanville believes. “Jeff has written some hugely ballsy plays, and doesn’t get enough credit for that. Structurally, it’s probably the most perfect first act I’ve ever worked on. It’s just a really good piece of theater.”
Working as an actor on a new play can be quite the challenge. It can also be very exciting.
“An original script requires a lot of work,” explained Grant R. Krause, who portrays playwright Joseph Harris in “Guest Artist.” “There’s no preconceived notions. You’re going in with a clean slate other than the words that have been written, and those are subject to change. With an established script, you’re not dealing with things going away, scenes being moved or lines being changed. So it’s much more hands on when you’re working with a new play. It’s exciting in that respect, because you feel much more a part of the process.”
Kenney, who plays apprentice Kenneth Waters, agrees. “There’s no precedent to follow; you’re helping make it. Nobody else has done it before. It’s fun being a part of the end result.”
Krause, now working on his sixth show at the Purple Rose – four of them original productions, including “And The Winner Is,” “Leaving Iowa” and “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” – became excited about the show while reading it for the first time. “It affected me. It spoke to me on some issues I care about, and it wasn’t whispering those in my ear – it was standing in front of me shouting it. I’m real honored to have my name attached to it.”
The script had a similar impact on Kenney, who’s starring in his second show at the theater. “I think a lot of what [Jeff] says in the play needs to be said. I think, especially now, people want to be sheltered from the truth. They want to make meaningless movies and TV shows and not think about anything real, or hard or painful. This play tells us you can’t do that.”
Kenney is especially complimentary of Krause’s work on “Guest Artist.” “He makes me a better actor when I’m on stage with him, because he’s always there and listening. I trust him completely, and that makes my job easier. When you have faith in what you’re doing, you don’t worry about things you shouldn’t worry about anyways. You just do your job.”
Randall Godwin, a longtime favorite on the Purple Rose stage, plays the bus station’s Ticket Man. It’s a small, but vital role that represents more than what theatergoers might initially recognize. “I’m alienated, and I love that,” Godwin said with a wry smile – referring both to his character and the fact that he never leaves the confines of his ticket booth during the play. “There’s a challenge to playing someone who, as written, doesn’t give a f**k.”
It’s a risk, Godwin says, “that in the fifteen seconds that you have, you don’t bore the hell out of people.”
Working on such a project, Sanville concluded, “is a glorious adventure into the unknown. We want to entertain people, but it’s okay to make them think once in awhile. The whole country is in denial, but we’ll see: They might throw rocks at [the actors]. I don’t know!”
“Guest Artist” runs Wed.-Sun. at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, Chelsea, from Jan. 27-March 18. Tickets: $25-$35. For information: 734-433-7673 or http://www.purplerosetheatre.org
Professional Theater News:
BoarsHead alums reunite for special romantic evening
LANSING – BoarsHead Theater joins two accomplished actors, Kristine Thatcher and Anthony (Phil) Heald, as they reunite for a very special evening in a performance of the staged reading “Love Letters,” by A.R. Gurney.
This romantic one-night benefit is a homecoming for Heald, former BoarsHead alum. Heald, national theater and film star, joins Thatcher, current artistic director of BoarsHead and an award-winning actress, in reading “Love Letters.” The New York Times calls this critically acclaimed play, “Exhilarating, funny and moving.” “Love Letters” is a stirring work tracing a lifelong love-affair through the correspondence of staid lawyer Andrew Makepeace Ladd III with talented but unstable artist Melissa Gardner. As their 50-year friendship opens, the story of their relationship unfolds from what is written on the page – and what is left unsaid – in their writings.
An intimate champagne and hors d’oeuvre Afterglow will immediately follow the performance. This “one-of-a-kind” romantic event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Thatcher and Heald worked together extensively, performing in over 30 plays during their early tenures at BoarsHead. Thatcher, a Lansing native, began her acting career at the theater when she was only 16. Since working in such BoarsHead roles as Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday” and Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” this talented woman has traveled across the country, acting, directing and writing. She returned to Lansing on Sept. 1 to become BoarsHead’s new artistic director.
Heald, probably most famous for his role as Dr. Frederick Chilton in “Silence of the Lambs,” has been seen more recently on TV’s Fox Channel playing the role of high school Vice-Principal Scott Guber on “Boston Public.” However, early in Heald’s career (1971) he, along with William Hurt and John Hammond, were a few of the original company members as the BoarsHead became a not-for-profit, year-round production playhouse. Since his BoarsHead days, Heald has had an extremely successful career. His body of work includes roles in: “Anything Goes,” “Love, Valor and Compassion” and “Inherit the Wind” on the Broadway stage; “The Pelican Brief,” “Postcards From the Edge” and “8MM” in film; “The Practice,” “X-Files,” “Frazier” and “Law and Order” on the TV screen, and well over 60 recordings on audio tape.
Tickets to the event are $100, which includes the Afterglow along with an opportunity to meet Heald. All of the proceeds raised during the evening will go to support BoarsHead’s production costs and the theater’s expanding educational program.
For tickets, call the BoarsHead box office at 517-484-7805.
Suspense and Nonsense & Interact Shows combine businesses
KALAMAZOO – InterAct Shows, produced by Jane Allyson, and Suspense and Nonsense Murder Mystery Troupe, produced by Kim Bowen and Cathie Weir, are merging businesses to, “combine forces and talents to build a stronger murder mystery company, as well as offering clients a wide range of entertainment.”
InterAct Shows moved to Kalamazoo from Chicago three years ago, bringing their Chicago style training and live theatrical background with them. Since here, they have produced mysteries at The Black Swan, Francois, the M.A.C. and founded the community theater, Portage Players, that performs in the summer. Jane has also performed with the highly popular, “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” in the Chicago area.
Suspense and Nonsense, formerly Suspenders, has been producing public and private murder mysteries around the state since 1992, most recently at Webster’s in the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. Bowen has been performing professionally and in community theaters since the early ’70s. He has also been a driving force of the mystery group since its inception in 1992. As the founder of Suspenders, Weir has been performing and directing since “God was a boy.” Besides working as the publicist for the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, she recently directed the critically acclaimed “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” at the Whole Art Theater, and will be directing “The Foreigner” for the Civic in April. Weir studied with the Royal National Theatre in London, and this past summer she served as the host for AACT Fest, the American Association of Community Theatres national festival that drew more than 400 people from around the country to the Kalamazoo Civic.
According to Weir, “While Jane and I were doing a show for All Ears Theatre, we began talking about our businesses. Besides a mutual respect for each other’s talents, we found that we had the same goals in common. Subsequently we hired Jane and her husband, Mark D’Arienzo, to perform in our mysteries. (D’Arienzo is currently performing in the Chicago touring company of “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding.”) They liked our format, and after a show in December, we all decided to meet and talk about combining forces. All of us have such great ideas. We’re still working out the details, but we’re positive that everyone will benefit from the combination of talent, experience and professionalism.”
Bowen related, “I’ve wanted to expand our business for a long time. We’ve had clients that were so excited about our mysteries; they inquired whether or not we had other shows available. Now, with the merge, we will be able to provide a broad spectrum of entertainment. We’ve toured the state with our productions, and, with the merge, we’ll be able to expand that part of the business even further. Besides our yearly trek to McGuire’s Resort in Cadillac, we are speaking with the folks at Grand Traverse Resort about bringing in a production this summer, and Bay Point Inn in Shelbyville. It’s going to be an exciting year for this group.”
Weir agreed. “There have been times when we’ve had two clients who wanted to book the same evening for a mystery. Not only did we have to disappoint one group, we lost that income. With the merge we’ll be able to accommodate everyone, in addition to providing local actors with the opportunity to work and be paid for their talents.”
According to Allyson, each person connected to the merger has a vast amount of experience. “Each of us has performance, production, marketing and business related talents. We’ve had a wonderful time over the past two years performing murder mysteries all over Kalamazoo, but it just became too much for one person to manage. With this merger, we have more support, more opportunity to provide a wider range of services to our clients and, by combining talent pools, we have more professional actors to work with. You can still see your favorite faces.”
InterAct will still provide comedy shows, mystery party games, singing telegrams and other fun stuff, Allyson noted, but the murder mystery dinner theater shows will now be run through Suspense & Nonsense.
The group will operate under the name InterAct Shows, with all murder mysteries operating under Suspense and Nonsense. Services will include cabaret acts, singing telegrams, rent a character for special events and a formal torch singer who provides standards such as “Stormy Weather,” “Cry Me A River,” “Misty” and more. More than 20 murder mystery scripts are currently available, including “Quiet on the Set,” “Illegal Briefs,” “Mobsters, Molls and Murder” and ” Killing Me Softly.”
The first collaboration will be a murder mystery production, “Boat Over Troubled Waters,” at Kalamazoo’s District 211 on Saturday, Jan. 28. Call District 211 at 269-226-9000 for additional information, or visit their website at http://www.district211.com.
For additional information about InterAct or Suspense and Nonsense call Kim Bowen at 269-217-5171 or visit http://www.interactshows.com
On Our College Campuses:
WSU Studio Theatre presents ‘The Midnight Caller’
DETROIT – Wayne State University’s Studio Theatre presents “The Midnight Caller” by Horton Foote, a beautiful, poignant story of three unmarried women who live in the safety of a boarding house in Harrison, Texas.
For these women, the boarding house represents safety and insulation from the real world. Rather than truly living, they have been content to simply watch both the people and the events of the town. It is the arrival of Helen Crews, who has just broken off an engagement with Harvey Weems, which disturbs the usual rhythms of boarding house life. Dealing with the ramifications of Helen’s doomed romance forces each of the women to truly question their lives.
Wharton, Texas native Horton Foote is one of America’s leading dramatists. He is distinguished from the other playwrights of his time by the compassion that shapes his many plays. He received his first Academy Award in 1962 for his screenplay of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and his second in 1983 for “Tender Mercies.”
Directed by Ph.D. candidate Honey English and assistant directed by freshman Bethany Hedden, the cast includes LoriGoe Perez, Lauren Mae Shafer, Jessica Cermak, Rachel Allison, Jessica Green, Mikel Allan and James Abbott.
Designers include Kevin Beltz as scenic designer, Alan Batkiewicz as assistant scenic designer and prop master, Justine Brock as lighting designer, Corey O’Sullivan as costume designer, Theresa Hartman as assistant costume designer and Heather DeFauw as sound designer.
Ticket prices range from $8-$10.
For tickets and further information, call 313-577-2972 or visit the Wayne State University box office at 4743 Cass on the corner of Cass and W. Hancock in Detroit. Performance information may also be obtained by visiting the company’s website at http://www.theatre.wayne.edu.
Community Theater Corner:
Shakespeare’s Valentine to feature new ideas
LANSING – Sunsets with Shakespeare is pleased to announce its Second Annual “Shakespeare’s Valentine Celebration.” The event will be held Tuesday, Feb. 14 at the RE Olds Anderson Rotary Barn located at the Woldumar Nature Center in Lansing.
The event will feature Lansing area luminaries such as: ABC 53 News Director and Entertainment Express Reporter Jim Fordyce; Lansing State Journal Editorial Page Editor Mark Nixon; Quiz Buster’s Host Matt Ottinger; and a host of actors from the Sunsets company, reading monologues and sonnets and performing love scenes from the Bard and his contemporaries.
In addition, Peppermint Creek Theater Company Artistic Director Chad Badgero has agreed to stop in and provide a reading.
Last year’s event was labeled “zany romantic fun” by participants and audiences alike. And this year promises more fun, more insanity and tons of the Bard’s love to go around.
New this year, Gone Wired Cafe on Michigan Avenue in Lansing will cater the event. Meat, vegetarian and kosher meals will be available. All meals will include salad, soup, main course and dessert.
Dinner will be served from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. A meet, greet and mingle will occur from 7:30 p.m. until 7:55 p.m. The show will start promptly at 8 p.m.
The cost for dinner and show for two is $30; the cost of the show alone is $5 per person.
Reservations for the meal can be made by emailing SunsetsTheater@aol.com or by calling Todd Heywood at 517-484-4492. Please specify which meal you wish when making your reservation. All reservations must be made by 8 p.m. EST on February 7.
The Kalamazoo Civic Youth Theatre presents Disney’s ‘Aladdin, Jr.’
KALAMAZOO – The Kalamazoo Civic Youth Theatre will present Disney’s “Aladdin, Jr.” Feb. 3-11 in the Civic Auditorium, 329 South Park, Kalamazoo.
Welcome to Agrabah, City of Enchantment, where every beggar has a story and every camel has a tail! All of your favorite characters are here in this stage adaptation of the Disney hit, including Aladdin, Jasmine and of course, the Genie. Filled with magic, mayhem and flying carpet rides, Disney’s “Aladdin, Jr.” will soar with excitement. Most of all, the tuneful, Academy award-winning score with songs including “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me” will certainly make this musical a favorite with audiences of all ages.
Directed by Civic Youth Theatre Director Zac Thompson, with music direction by Melissa Leininger, the cast and crew features over 50 students from the Kalamazoo area.
To order your tickets, call the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre Box Office at 269-343-1313 or visit http://www.kazoocivic.com